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Anxiety In Badagry …Over proposed film city

By Alayande Dayo
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The wide expanse of land sits quietly, tucked between the Lagos Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean in Gberefu village, Badagry. It is, without a doubt, a perfect milieu for its proposed use: a film city. Located off the Badagry coast, on a sandy stretch of land that had, ages ago, served as a route for local slaves on their forced voyage to the Americas, the whole environment is a perfect blend of history and culture.

This Friday morning, imposing coconut trees greet you as you alight from the speed boat to commence the 15-minute walk from the jetty to the ocean. From the distance, you glimpse one or two houses in the village, their thatched roofs jutting out of the bushes. On the narrow path to the Atlantic is a well described by the people as a relic of an infamous past. It is believed that captured slaves were forced to drink water from the well, after which they promptly experienced an absolute loss of memory.

Along the beach, a cluster of shanties awaits you, apparently domiciled by members of the Christian sects that daily crowd the seashore for some religious rites. And facing the ocean, obviously engrossed in a heated supplication with some supernatural being, some of the devotees in white outfits carry on with their spiritual endeavour, hardly bothered by the trespassing newshound.

But underneath this facade of a serene ambience, some turbulence silently brews. These days in Badagry, many indigenes are angry that their prized possession, the land for the proposed film city which is jointly owned by a number of families in the town, is about being taken away from them by the government without adequate compensation.

Yet, to think that the people are unhappy with the authorities over the purpose for which the land is being acquired would be an erroneous perception. According to a youth leader in the area, the people of Badagry are enthralled that such a big project is coming their way. The Lagos state government is said to be spearheading the project in conjunction with some private investors. But the community's uneasiness stems from the growing belief that the people of Gberefu and other land owners might be short-changed by some government officials in the payment of compensation. They also fear that the land might lose its intended use. According to them, the land might eventually be sand-filled and turned into an expensive sea-side estate for the rich and top officials of the government.

A young man, Bayo (last name withheld), confides in Daily Sun that that line of thought is gradually gaining ground in the area.

When, months into the administration of Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, the Lagos State government decided to set a film city project in a peaceful, beautiful part of the state, Gberefu village in Badagry was seen by the government as the ideal place. A committee on the Lagos Film City and Energy City projects was set up, and in January this year, the committee held a meeting with those considered as stakeholders in the film project.

At the VIP Chalet in Badagry between January 16 and 17, 2008, members of that committee, led by the state deputy governor, Mrs Sarah Sosan, held a meeting with community leaders, political leaders, traditional rulers and youth leaders in Badagry. Following that initial meeting, executive secretary of Badagry Local Government Area, Honourable Michael Zanni also set up a community liaison committee to act as the link between the community and the government on the project. In the five-man committee, which has Prince Yomi Ajose as chairman, is High Chief Menu Toyon 11, Mobee of Badagry Kingdom (representing the Akran of Badagry on the panel), Chief N.A.M Sanni, Numeton 1, Baale of Gberefu , Mr Willie Kudofokeh, chairman of the Community Development Council in Badagry, and Mr Uthman Suenu who serves as Secretary.

Daily Sun learnt that members of the committee subsequently held meetings with the traditional rulers, community leaders and members of the Technical Committee set up by the state government on compensation.

Members of the committee and the council's executive secretary, Michael Zanni, were said to have also met with residents of Gberefu, particularly those residing on the site for the proposed film city project to formally inform them of government's plans for their land. On February 7, this year, the committee held a meeting with the ancestral land owners of the proposed film city. On March 8, Zanni was said to have held another meeting with youths of Badagry to seek their understanding and support for the project. Ajose, chairman of the liaison committee, was equally said to have sought the cooperation of the youths.

A copy of the liaison committee's report obtained by Daily Sun and signed by all five members, notes that members of the Gberefu community are making some demands of the state government. According to the document, these include:

1. That the state government should make a reasonable portion of land available to the community for both the ancestral land owners and the villagers. They pleaded with the state government not to acquire the entire land at Gberefu without considering the local dwellers.

2. That the purpose for which the land was acquired should not be altered. The community demanded for a document assuring them on this demand from the state government.

3. That those displaced be provided with adequate and decent accommodation.

4. That compensation in form of equity in the business on a reasonable percentage be negotiated for the ancestral land owners. They emphasized that the state government should protect the interest of the community on the above issue.

5. That employment opportunity be guaranteed for the professionals, semi-skilled and unskilled indigenes of Badagry Local Government.

6. That the Lagos State Government should retain the name Gberefu, the traditional ruler, Numeton 1, Baale of Gberefu, his palace and traditional place of worship as a monument and legacy for posterity.

7. That modern facilities, including schools, roads, electricity, hospitals and water, etc, be provided for the people of Gberefu.

The committee, in its recommendations, suggested that the demands of the community on the Gberefu project be met by the state government, even as it stressed that matters concerning compensation and welfare packages “be transparent to the entire community and only a legitimate and recognized principal of each family be identified and publicized before any benefit is provided”.

Since those initial meetings, however, the people say the government has been suspiciously quiet. According to Bayo, people in the community are getting restless.

“We don't know what the government is up to,” he complains. “Everyday, we see government officials taking people, who we believe are investors, to the site. They are sidetracking the committee set up to liaise between the people and the government. The other day, we saw a signboard there announcing that the place has been earmarked for a film city. We had to remove the signboard. We are still negotiating and they are already erecting signposts. Is that how things are done? Some government officials came back to report that we removed their signboard. But are they supposed to put a signboard there when the government has not concluded negotiations with us?”

Another youth leader in the community, who corroborates Bayo's claims, wonders why members of the liaison committee who are all respected leaders in the community are keeping silent in the face of the government's suspicious moves. He is of the opinion that money could have exchanged hands between government officials and some of the leaders.

Chairman of the liaison committee, Prince Yomi Ajose, however dismisses as utter balderdash insinuations that the committee members might have been compromised by the government. In his words, no sane member of the committee would dare betray the people by engaging in fraudulent acts against the community. The consequences, he stresses, are too severe. He also expresses the committee's trust in Governor Babatunde Fashola, saying the state's chief executive has good intentions for people of the state.

A top chief in the area, says, however, that officials of the state government have been playing hanky-panky with the committee.

“We have no problems with Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola”, notes the chief who pleads not to be quoted. “The governor's noble intention is unquestionable. But we cannot say the same of some other government officials involved in this project. But there is nothing they will achieve without consulting with the right people. The community set up a committee to liaise with the government because we are the people that really know the community. Our forefathers were land owners and they handed the land over to us. But if they are discussing with the wrong people, things will go wrong soon and they will run back to us. The other time, they said somebody removed a signboard they erected. But if they have been talking to the right people, we would have been keeping watch on the signboard”.

He also agrees that youths in the community are getting restless. “We have been appealing to them not to do anything to disrupt the peace in the community. But the government needs to start talking to the right people. They need to carry us along in whatever they do”.

But Executive Secretary of the National Film and Video Censors Board, Mr Oladimeji Awopetu has, however, doused such fears, saying the government is committed to taking the right steps on the Gberefu project.

His words: “This administration cannot take up a land belonging to some people without duly compensating them. A committee was set up to look into the project and that committee has just submitted its report. The people of the area has always been carried along. We've made visits to the Akran of Badagry who supported the project. The report submitted is under study and immediately that is concluded, owners of the houses that would be touched will be adequately compensated. So the allegation that we are not carrying them along is baseless. We are carrying the people of Gberefu along and when the time comes, we will compensate them.”